Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Making Meaning Matter- Venture Gapitalist guide to #SoCap12

The Social Capital Markets conference turns five this year. Wikipedia tells me 5 year olds are more advanced than 4 year olds, and have taken on adult proportions. But they also "ask innumerable questions: why, what, where, when, how?"

This year's theme, which seems quite advanced for a 5 year old, is "Making Meaning Matter." I am guessing this is a nod to John Doerr's  advice that entrepreneurs should "make meaning." For the past few years, I have posted a Venture Gapitalist Guide to Socap, so I thought I'd offer two ideas to share/recombine, with an eye to helping answer the innumerable questions that face those of us who work at the intersection of money, meaning and mattering.

First, today, Brad Feld's book "Startup Communities" launched. I was fortunate enough to hear Brad cover the main themes of the book a few weeks ago. I think they are useful for SoCap, age 5. Here are a few notes I took (these should not be a substitute for actually reading the book):
1) Startup communities need to be led by entrepreneurs. Yes, that is a period at the end of the sentence. Full stop. You are either a leader (entrepreneur) or a feeder (university, investor, service provider). On this topic, he warned against the patriarch syndrome, where "old white guys try to act like gatekeepers."  Ouch (I noticed Brad appears to be younger than I, and about as white).
2) To build a startup community, you need to take a long term view. What does he mean by long term? He said "a generation," but his publisher made him say 20 years. He said that's OK... if you start the clock over every day (so you never actually "get" there).
3) You have to include anyone who wants to be included. No titles, no admission requirements. You join by showing up. He made an interesting observation that the more things get organized, the less inclusive they are.
4) A startup community needs to be about events and activity. Startup weekends, hackathons, meet ups.    Doing it, not talking about doing it.

At age 5, how is SoCap doing on these four criteria? I know that after year 2, it reached out to entrepreneurs with more significant scholarships and assistance- I think it saw creeping patriarch syndrome, and opened the door a crack. I think at year 5 it seems pretty welcoming to entrepreneurs from certain networks. Each year this crew is larger, and more diverse. Still a challenge to bring people in from around the world, but very different from a few years ago.

Despite the usual puffery about billions of dollars flowing into impact investing, I think in general SoCappers recognize the emergent qualities of this space, and are taking a long term, "builder" approach to impact investing. So far, our 5 year old is doing well on #1 and #2. But then we get to "inclusiveness" and "activity"- I think these are challenges for SoCap. How to be inclusive, but also have a sustainable business model? How to have a conference which actually gets stuff done? Will SoCap choose a path of becoming a startup community, not a conference? It seems to moving in this direction, but so hard to tell with a 5 year old.

Second, Andy Hargadon and I have been working on some ideas for applying the concepts of lean startups more broadly.  How do we take the concepts that are building Silicon Valley web startups, and apply to them to "the other 99%?" of entrepreneurial ventures? Our view is that MVPs, pivoting and business model canvases are necessary, but not sufficient, for building the types of companies the world needs. We want to encourage entrepreneurs to start somethng, that matters, with soul. Our observation is that starting something is a first step, but that entrepreneurs would do well to focus on starting things that matter. And, to do that in a way that endures, they need to build something with soul. Intentionally building a culture and brand that is, well... immortal.

So to recombine these two ideas for SoCap... can SoCap become a startup community for companies that matter, with soul? I think it has as good a chance as any, and at age 5, is on it's way. If you are at SoCap, what are you doing this week to help this happen? And if you aren't here, how can you become involved? How do we raise this youngster to make a real difference in the long term?
For SoCap history buffs, some of my former posts and escapades:
2008 Panel with Tim Brown, Paul Polak, Kristen Peterson and me (video)
2010 Venture Gapitalist Guide for 2010
2011 Welcome to Emergence: Venture Gapitalist's View on #SoCap11 and SoCap Redux

This post is dedicated to my second ever blog reader (my Mom), who not only wrote her thesis on "The Meaning of Meaning," but then tried to explain existentialism to me when I was about ten years old. Which may explain my deep interest in meaning. Or not. And I am getting dangerously close to having 100,000 views of this blog. So thank you, whoever you are (besides my Mom) that reads my occasional ramblings and helps me makes sense of this journey.